I’ve talked before about winding down the shadow, teaching prematurely, and having peer support. Issues with these are important to recognize in others and groups so we don’t get caught up in their junk (as much) or amplify our own. I’ve also touched on cultish teachers and some of the symptoms of problems.
I gave an example recently in Ken Wilber. He cofounded What is Enlightenment? magazine and the Integral Institute with Andrew Cohen. Cohen has become a useful case study in what can go wrong.
It’s not the purpose of this blog to attack or judge others or their teachings but it’s very useful to distinguish between the nuggets and the mud on offer.
Any teacher who’s been around for awhile will have some disgruntled students. Some will make a point of publicly attacking or dismissing the work. You also get the followers attacking back. I’ve had a few of both show up on this blog.
But there’s a line between being human: personality defects, mistakes, and organizational problems vs ongoing abuse. Also between charisma and presence.
Over a couple of decades, Cohen became a well-known and loved teacher who also had some disturbing habits. There are occasions when it may be suitable to knock a student off their pedestal but there’s a big difference between that and abuse. Cohen became notorious for all sorts of abuse.
Evidently, Cohen found students were making little progress in his presence and demanded more commitment. This devolved into “physical force, verbal abuse, and intense psychological pressure.”
Several books have been published about his bad behavior, including one by his own mother (Mother of God). He broke with his teacher Papaji early on after being asked to step down, accusing Papaji of ethical and enlightened shortcomings.
Ironically, Cohen insisted that “flawless behavior” was the manifestation of enlightenment. He apparently forgot he was still a human.
In 2013, Cohen was finally asked to step down by his organization and the group folded. He took a sabbatical.
Recently, a few events have brought him back to the fore. Conscious 2 (a subscription-based video service) is releasing a film about him in a 6-part series called How I Created A Cult. Cohen himself is interviewed for the film and the title implies he stated this.
However, the end of the second trailer on the above link suggests he has not yet understood how he contributed to this. But a prior clip in the same trailer certainly illustrates what we’re talking about.
Herein lies the problem. For some people, positions of power bring out their dark side. He has now announced he plans to return to teaching again. Like Wilber, I’m dubious he’s actually awake but seems convinced he’s “fully free from karmic bondage.” (shadow) That’s a dangerous assumption for anyone to make – even someone quite enlightened. But it’s a great story if you want to avoid responsibility.
It certainly illustrates the difficulty of our shadow. We can’t see what we’re standing in. But if we refuse to see when others point it out, then the grip is still strong.
There is a fine line between exploring these issues and walking into the mud. There is value in being real about enlightenment and humanity. But hanging out on guru-bashing sites is not likely to serve you.
In that sense, it varies what the value of watching the above film might be. For some, it can be healing or illusion-popping. For others, another reason to hate teachers or dismiss Cohen out of hand. If the makers of such media can find a balanced approach, as the filmmakers state, it may be quite valuable. I’ve not seen it myself.
Just be careful what draws you to the flame. Slowing down to see the crash? Or seeking to understand this messy thing called human spirituality.